So, I started a new book. I realize of course that I say that with the kind of casualness you’d assume as if you’ve been carrying on a conversation with a good friend and a good meal. If I let it play out, you’ve just started a new bite and I’m finishing mine. A white napkin across my lips and I say, it’s called, “Suffering” by Paul Tripp. You say, “Oh yeah? How is it?” “As advertised on its cover,” I reply, “it’s gospel hope when life doesn’t make sense.” You nod in polite agreement. I take another bite.
Paul Tripp as some of you may know is a speaker, writer and pastor. He also got hit with something that prevented him from doing any of that. As I read his book, I often feel like he’s plagiarized not only my writing but my life. “I was proud of my physical fitness and confident in the healthiness of my body. I was proud too that because I was physically strong, I was able to be productive. I traveled every weekend to conferences and wrote book after book in between. I look back now and see that I lived with assessments of invincibility. I was not a young man, but I felt like I was at the top of my game. Health and success are intoxicating but also vulnerable.”
In the book of Job, he writes…
What a verse. What truth.
I'm sentimental, of course, but bodily stewardship is truly an ever-growing tension for me; as if each ticking second of the clock beside me as I type this sentence represents the irreversible loosening stitch of the fabric of my physical self, and in essence, the tearing apart of my being.
When I got sick a few years ago, my grasp of my mortality tightened and my sensitivity to the brittleness of my body heightened. I came face-to-face with a certain truth. That my physical limit wasn't my personal best; like some passing bench press (405lb.) or my squat (550lb.); imposters disguised as my potential. I list them only to help illustrate that those mountain-top moments didn't represent my personal best. No, the most strenuous minute I've ever filled came when I realized I would never attempt to best them.
Some of you have filled similar minutes.
The doctor’s prognosis;
the unexpected phone call;
the uncertain reality of loss.
Paul Tripp describes it this way: “Here’s what happens in times of suffering. When the thing you’ve been trusting is laid to waste, you don’t suffer just the loss of that thing; you also suffer the loss of the identity and security that it provided.”
(Yeah. I know, right?)
Frankly, nobody reading this sentence - or anyone who ever lived for that matter - has ever physically traveled beyond their God-given limits. Nobody. Read the verse above again if need be. And while that might be a slap in the face to the motivational speaker who claims we can push beyond them, the truth is, we never exceed our limits. We merely - if rarely - find them. And I like to think, like Job realized, that in finding our limits, we meet God.
- Jimmy Peña
(I press my plate away from me and you do the same. The waiter asks if we’d care for anything else. “Coffee?” he suggests. We both agree it’s a good idea.)